By DANIEL KITTREDGE While Mayor Ken Hopkins's picks to lead the city's economic development office and Department of Senior Services drew some questions and criticism from members of the Democratic caucus, the City Council on Monday gave its unanimous
While Mayor Ken Hopkins’s picks to lead the city’s economic development office and Department of Senior Services drew some questions and criticism from members of the Democratic caucus, the City Council on Monday gave its unanimous backing to each of the new chief executives picks for municipal department head positions.
“At the end of the day, it’s the mayor’s decision, and I am hopeful that my concerns will be wrong,” Citywide Councilwoman Jessica Marino said during the advise and consent process on the mayor’s appointments. “I don’t want to be disagreeable for the sake of being disagreeable.”
Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan made a similar point, saying he believes the mayor’s selections should be approved barring any “extreme circumstances.”
The unanimous votes of the full council in favor of the appointments came after each received the recommendation of the Finance Committee last week.
The new appointments include City Solicitor Chris Millea, Parks and Recreation Director Raymond Tessaglia, Economic Development Director Franklin Paulino, Senior Services Director Stephen Craddock, and Community Development Director Timothy Sanzi.
Three of the appointees remain in roles they held during the Fung administration – Finance Director Robert Strom, Public Works Director Ken Mason and Building Official David Rodio. Daniel Parrillo, who will serve as personnel director under Hopkins, had served as Fung’s director of administration.
During the council’s review of the nominees, questions arose over the qualifications of Paulino and Craddock. During the Finance Committee hearing, Marino was the sole dissenter in a pair of 5-1 votes to recommend the appointments.
Marino’s questioning of Paulino last week revealed that while he resided in Providence for roughly 25 years, he moved to Florida in 2005. Paulino told the council he is currently staying with family in Providence while he seeks a permanent living situation.
Hopkins’s administration has described Paulino – who was a frequent presence during last year’s election campaign – as a “small business owner, account executive and former service representative” with the IRS. The administration has highlighted Paulino’s fluency in Spanish and indicated that outreach to the city’s minority-owned business community will be a significant part of his role.
“As a small business owner, he understands the day to day challenges many of our local business owners faces,” Hopkins said in a December statement announcing Paulino and his other department head picks. “His background and enthusiastic people skills will help service our existing commercial and industrial base while recruiting new jobs to Cranston.”
Some council members, however – specifically the body’s four Democrats – voiced skepticism.
“I do have concerns that Mr. Paulino has not lived in the state of Rhode Island since 2005 … Now more than ever, with the tough economic times, I would like to have seen someone with ties to Rhode Island, nevermind Cranston,” Marino said Monday.
She later added: “His success is our success, and I’m rooting for him to do a good job.”
Donegan said it is “great” Hopkins’s administration will include a Spanish speaker and person of color. He added, however: “I am slightly disappointed, given the significant challenges of the times we’re facing, we’re not getting someone in that position that has more experience in economic development.”
Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas said: “Do I feel that the resume that has been presented before me has a strong background, Mr. Paulino, as far as economic development? I’m going to be quite honest with you, I don’t think he does. Do I think that we can all work with him to make sure he succeeds and is not set up for failure? Absolutely, I really do.”
Ward 2 Councilwoman Aniece Germain said her concern centers on whether Paulino will receive the needed level of support in his new role.
“My fear is, as people of color, oftentimes people get into a position … the support when they get into the job, the environment, is not conducive to thriving,” she said.
Addressing her colleagues and the administration, she added: “I have faith in you that you will provide all the support he needs … His success will be the success of Cranston as a whole.”
Republican council members indicated they are more unequivocally about what Paulino can bring to the role.
“He’s a people person, and he’s a positive energy … That persona, that personality, that positive energy, is needed in the world today,” Ward 4 Councilman Ed Brady said.
Citywide Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli said Paulino has a “good marketing background” and will bring a “grassroots approach” to the job. He will also bring welcome diversity to City Hall, she said – “which we are always talking about trying to do.”
“We are all more than our résumé … I can tell you that he’s going to do a great job.”
Craddock’s appointment drew less discussion, although Marino and Donegan about expressed some reservations.
Information provided by the Hopkins administration indicates Craddock comes to the city after a lengthy career with Staples, which included “various senior management and customer service positions.” He is also a U.S. Army veteran.
Donegan said Craddock has a “very qualifying résumé for a lot of things … but we’re talking about the director of senior services.”
“I’m going to vote yes and give Mr. Craddock a shot,” he added.
Marino also said she was “disappointed to see that [Craddock] doesn’t have any direct experience with seniors.”
“It gives me pause and concern, but again, his success is our success,” she said.
In related business Monday, the council approved a pair of ordinances that outline a handful of salary and staffing changes in the Hopkins administration. Both were approved on 5-4 party line voters.
Marino said while the changes are neutral from a financial standpoint, she would have preferred to see a decrease in costs given the uncertain fiscal outlook. Donegan said he felt the changes should have been pursued through the upcoming budget process for the coming year.
Germain questioned the lack of a woman in a “high-level position” in the Hopkins administration, saying: “I don’t see the equity lens in those raises.”
Renzulli countered that Paula Smith has been chosen as the new mayor’s director of constituent affairs, while women have also been hired in the city solicitor’s office. She acknowledged Germain’s point, but said she views the administration’s selections as a “move in the right direction.”
Ward 6 Councilman Matt Reilly defended the staffing and salary changes from a financial perspective, saying the budget-neutral outcome is a “testament to [the administration’s] fiscal conservatism.” Some of the raises included, he said, are needed for positions that have been “woefully underfunded.”
“We’re on one team, not two teams, and we need to move forward together as one city,” he said. Elsewhere before the City Council:
* During a special meeting last week, the council unanimously approved a resolution calling on the governor and General Assembly to lift COVID-related restrictions on businesses – particularly the curfew for bars and restaurants.
Hopkins and state Sen. Frank Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston) both took part in the meeting and spoke in support of the resolution.
The mayor criticized the state’s early closing time rules, saying: “I think we’re all adults, and we should be able to make those kinds of decisions on our own without government interference.” He said the resolution sends a message “loud and clear to our state leaders that we need to allow our businesses to stay open.”
Lombardi said he and Sen. Ana Quezada of Providence are working on a similar measure for introduction in the General Assembly. He, too, criticized the early closing times, suggesting there is “no data” to support them.
“We’d like to implore, basically to ask the governor’s office, to just pull back on the restrictions as a whole … I’m behind it 1,000 percent,” he said.
Several members of the local business community shared similar messages during their own comments before the council.
Brady, one of the lead sponsors of the resolution, spoke of his experience as a restaurant owner.
“I cannot stress enough how much we need this to happen now,” he said of an easing of restrictions.
Vargas, another lead sponsor, called small businesses “ the backbone of our community.” The ongoing restrictions, she said, put those businesses – particularly restaurants – at risk.
“We’ll definitely see an impact on our city revenues down the line … I hate to see empty storefronts, in our own community and throughout the state,” she said.
Marino said protecting public health while allowing businesses to operate is not “mutually exclusive.”
“What is the problem with them staying open during their hours when they’re abiding by the rules? … It’s like their leg is open and we took away their crutches. Give them their crutches back,” she said.
Council President Chris Paplauskas added: “Whether you’re in Cranston, Smithfield, Woonsocket, West Warwick, or Westerly, you’re struggling. As a small business owner, as a restaurant, you’ve invested thousands of dollars in plexiglass and other ways that you’ve had to cut back, cut your hours. Small business is the fabric of our community …“Obviously, COVID-19 is extremely, extremely serious, and we continue to take it seriously. We’re just asking that small businesses be able to earn a living for a few extra hours at night and operate during their normal business hours.” * The council on Monday unanimously approved a resolution sponsored by Vargas calling on the governor and General Assembly to direct $8 million of the state’s new federal stimulus money to support after school and summer youth programming. * The council on Monday also voted to hire Lisa Andoscia, president of Rosewood Consulting, as its new grant writer. Andoscia drew praise from several council members, and Brady noted that she was recently named as a participant on Lt. Gov. Dan McKee’s transition team as he prepares to assume the governorship.